Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Whoever out there in Netflix Land who's holding on to The Wire Season 1, Disc 1, send it back already! That's been on the top of my list for months, and it's never available. Why are you hogging The Wire S1D1??? Don't you know that other people want to watch it? C'mon, be a considerate Netflix community member and send it back. Sheesh.

Monday, February 26, 2007

There have been a few more stories come out of the New York Comicon. This one, again from Newsarama, covers the Dark Horse panel.

>Atkins then asked the audience, “Who likes extreme violence?” When the reaction was not up to his expectations, he deadpanned, “Don’t be so shy; everyone here wanted to raise their hands.” <

Or maybe they didn't want to raise their hands. Maybe the audience isn't as thirsty for violence as publishers assume. Afterall, it's getting old at this point even for fans who once thought it daring.

Also, consider that a lot of people probably came to this panel for news on Star Wars and Buffy comics. Neither of those properties offer much "extreme violence". Yes, they have sword fights and martial arts and monsters, but only a few instances of violence that i'd think of as "extreme". It was a big deal when Vader chopped Luke's hand off b/c all the violence up to that point had been fairly unrealistic. Ditto with the few times that Buffy or one of her friends got significantly injured. Most of the violence on that show resulted in vampires turning to dust, which is very fanciful.

>He then told readers about MPD Psycho, a manga series that is so violent and so extreme that nothing anyone has ever seen will compare. He added that the series is highly requested, but “none of the other publishers would touch it.” It is a compelling story that people need to read, with lots of blood and gore, he concluded.<

Maybe there are readers out there who are excited or intrigued by that, but to me it sounds boring. Whether it's been "highly requested" i can't say, b/c i don't follow Japanese comics that closely.

>Allie announced that Joss Whedon and Bret Matthews are writing, and Will Conrad penciling, a new Serenity comic series. The [snip] series will debut in “probably September or October.” It takes place early in the series, before the movie, so “everyone is still alive.”<

That could be good. Firefly was much stronger as a TV series than a movie. It's biggest appeal was the characters, and character-driven stories are antithetical to Big Action Movies. Comics, however, are well suited to that type of storytelling, since the pacing is very flexible, and the financial pressure to make things big and blockbustery isn't there.

Sunday, February 25, 2007

This week the theme of Movie Night was "Really Bad Movies". I had planned to show Hercules in New York, the first film starring Arnold Schwartzeneger, and Xanadu, a musical starring Olivia Newton John. (Xanadu also has a big element of Greek myth, so it was really a double theme!) However, Herc proved to be as much as we could handle, so we watched Danny Deckchair second.

What can i say? Everything in Hercules in New York is pretty terrible. Yet i can't badmouth it, because it made me laugh harder than anything has in a long time. The scene where Arnold wrestles a guy in a cheap bear suit is the most trancendently goofy thing you'll ever see. I wholeheartedly recommend it for anyone who enjoys a good Bad Movie now and then.
News from the New York ComiCon

Obviously i didn't go, but i've been reading some of the news online.

DC is going to do a new Captain Carrot & his Amazing Zoo Crew series. This is one i loved as a kid. It was a funny book starring a bunch of "funny animal" style characters (think Looney Toons) that lightly spoofed superhero comics. It's been years since i looked at them (i'm 99% sure the whole run is still in my collection), but i fondly remember them. It was one of the series that i had a subscription to back in the day (1982).

The good news is that the original artist, Scott Shaw! (he always adds the exclamation point), is drawing it. The bad news is...Well, just read this excerpt from Newsarama's story.

>NRAMA: Is the comic going to pick up where that [recent] Teen Titans story left off -- with Little Cheese dead, Alley-Kat-Abra in jail for his murder and the new character American Eagle joining the team?

BM: Well, we don't pick up exactly where that story left off, but we have kept the continuity intact. I was tempted to ignore it though. Scott told me that a lot of fans were outraged at the idea that Alley-Kat-Abra was a murderer. [snip] But I figured if we're updating these characters, why not have stories that deal with contemporary themes like heroes turning bad.

So yes, Alley is still in prison, Little Cheese is still dead, and American Eagle is the newest member of the Zoo Crew. But other developments have occurred that hinder the group's ability to function. President Mallard Fillmore has resigned from office because the press discovered that he bribed Felina Furr (A.K.A. Alley-Kat-Abra) to give up the Zoo Crew's secrets. The new administration is hostile toward capes, so the Zoo Crew is forced to operate more covertly [snip]

There's also a war brewing in the United Species of America between land and sea animals. It's a war of words until a little goldfish girl dies from exposure to toxic waste and amphibian terrorists begin blowing things up.<

WTF?! This is a HUMOR comic! And a fairly silly one, at that! Why would anyone want to put terrorists and all that rot in it? I really hope that this bit of news is some kind of elaborate joke that i just don't get. That is...so...crazy...wrong...i am dumbfounded.

The interview continues.

>NRAMA: Terrorists? This is one intense funny animal comic.

BM: Captain Carrot's world is definitely a darker place than it was in the '80s, but not so dark that we won't be able to have some laughs.

NRAMA: So you would still describe the title as a "humor" comic?

BM: Yes, absolutely, but I hope adult readers won't dismiss it for that reason.<

You hope adult readers won't reject it for being humorous, but you apparently hope adult readers will embrace it for being dark? Well, (if this story is accurate) this adult reader is going to reject it not because it's humorous, but because it's dark. Holy frikkin crap, people--a Captain Carrot book with terrorists!!! Why should i need to explain why that is a bad idea? Could someone please explain to me why DC would think it was a good one? Or why any reader would be turned on by it???

Okay, on to some non-insane news, still from DC.

They claim that 52 will have a definite ending, and not just spill over into their next weekly series. I'm hopeful, but i'll wait for the fat lady to sing on that one.

>Asked about All Star Squadron trades, Bob Wayne seemed to suggest that, based on audience response, they think they can do some large Showcase collections of the material.<

This is one of the other comics to which i had a subscription back in the day. I believe i have all, or nearly all, of the 60 issues in my collection. So, i won't be buying a Showcase collection, but maybe some new folks will read them and see how cool this series was.

>It was then announced by Didio and Simone that Norton will be the regular artist on All-New Atom after signing his exclusive.<

That's awesome. Norton did great work on his recent issues. He has a strong style and can apparently work on a monthly schedule.

Here's a nice bit from a panel on increasing female readership.

>Wendy Pini [writer/artist of the long-running Elfquest series] feels it is really tough to bust the misconception that women shy away from high drama, violence, issues of the day, and confrontation. Women can enjoy that and eat it up. On Elfquest, the worse they put the characters through, the more their female readers seemed to enjoy it. As long as the conflict is meaningful and has a reason for being, women are not just accepting of it, but excited to see how it turns out. "Girls don't just like cotton candy or foo-foo or fluff", as evidenced by the darkness of Sandman that still appeals greatly to women. Audry Taylor chimed in to share that women have the biggest problem with books that show women as doormats, rather than strong female leads.<

More publishers are starting to distribute in electronic format.

>Top Cow VP Filip Sablik revealed that Top Cow is partnering with videogame/entertainment online giant IGN.com to offer online versions of their comic books for full cover price ($2.99). According to Sablik, the issues will be offered online at the same time that they are offered in stores and be in PDF format. Also yesterday, Marvel's Dan Buckley indicated an online initiative is in the plans at the publishing giant as well, although it is apparently not as far along as Top Cow's.<

I question the prudence of charging full price, but i applaud more distribution methods. I've bought some comics in PDF format from DriveThruComics.com, and been happy with them. The comics on that site are usually 1.99 for a standard-length issue. Slave Labor Graphics has been doing this for, oh, a year i guess, and recently launched Eyemelt.com to focus on digital versions of their comics, for as little as 69 cents apiece. There's also PullBoxOnline.com, which is mostly IDW's Devil's Due Publishing's comics, for 99 cents each.

The folks who are really ahead of the curve on digital comic books, though, are FlashBack. Their comics are produced specifically with the digital format in mind. The "pages" are formatted like a computer screen, so you don't need to scroll up or down to read a whole page, as you do with traditional comics ported into PDF or CBR formats. You read a page, hit , and read the next, with each page filling the whole screen. And they're free.

Friday, February 16, 2007

This post on I Against Comics got me to thinking about the motivations for creating in certain directions. And thinking about that reminds me of a story from my life. Some of us comics fans are unhappy with the level of violence, "grittiness" and angst in modern comics (superhero comics, especially). So we wonder why these elements have become more prevalent, since we don't understand the motivation for putting them in there in the first place, in such large doses. Some folks think that the comic pros include them because that's what they want to see. That may be all or part of it, but i suspect that another motivator is involved, and that motivation is fighting against an assumed negative perception. I'll get into what that assumed negative perception is in a moment, but first i'll tell you that story from my life that helps illustrate why fighting such assumptions is, IMO, pointless and counterproductive.

So, in Junior High, i was a nerd. Pick up your jaws from the floor, folks. It's true; in a big, awkward, embarassing way. For my generation, this was the time that kids became concious of fashion. I understand that now all children are indoctrinated in the ways of couture much earlier, as the brand-conciousness of the fourth graders i tutor testifies. Anyway, I decided to buy some better clothes and make myself a bit less nerdy.

I went out and bought myself a pair of Air Jordans. This was the Old School, red-and-black version; if not the originals, darn close. They were, no doubt about it, very cool shoes. They would, i was sure, garner praise from my classmates. Not so. Instead, what they got me was a new taunt. Rather than being teased about having WalMart shoes, i now had "pretty boy" shoes. You see, being nerdy was bad enough, but being a nerd who tried to transcend his status was pathetic.

The lesson? People who don't like you can't be convinced to like you.

Now, how does this apply to comics, or any creative endeavor? Well, if you're working under the assumption that people look down on your work for element A, you might be tempted to go out of your way to make sure that element A is not in your work. You might even go a bit further and be sure to include element anti-A to drive the point home. While you hope this effort will convince people that your work should be looked up to rather than down on, all you'll end up with is pretty boy shoes.

Here's how i see it working in comics.
It begins with the assumed perception, which is:
- People think that comics are corny and 'just for kids'
Well, we can't have that, so we have to eliminate the stuff that encourages this opinion, so:
- Out with outlandish stories, powers, and such; rewrite your superpowers to be "realistic" and your characters to be more "serious", and make sure all your stories fit neatly into strict continuity
But that's not enough, because people still remember all those old silly things comics did before they got hip, so:
- Go to the opposite extreme. Heroes aren't just serious anymore, they're grim and gritty. They're tortured souls. They cross the line. And the villains! Hey, they mutilate and rape people now, buddy! How's that for corny, ya bastards?!
And that's pretty much where we find the "mainstream" comics industry these days. It's desperately working to prove that it's not corny or silly, or just for kids, so that all those perceived detractors will give in and admit that it's actually cool. And guess what? Comics sell a pathetic fraction of what they did back when they were corny and silly and safe for kids. See personal anecdote above.

So what do you do? Well, there's only one thing that can work in a situation like this. It's tough, and it will never get you universal acceptance and respect, but it gets you more respect than most folks deserve, and peace of mind, and that's honesty. On a personal level, when you're honest about yourself, the people who feel like you do, who share your interests and outlooks, or who simply aren't jerks, can know you, like and respect you. The people who don't sort of fall by the wayside, and don't matter anymore. Similarly, if DC and Marvel would stop worrying so much about proving that they aren't corny, etc. and would be themselves--i.e., use the strengths of the medium and its genres--they might find that more of the people who are attracted to comics would actually buy them.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

What The Hell Con at Guilford College

It was this weekend. I went on Saturday and met some friends there. We mostly played games, which was fun. I got play the Nintendo Wii. That "wii-mote" controller takes some getting used to, but i like it. This girl beat me in the boxing game, twice.

We also played this game called "Horror Mall", which is about trying to survive in a zombie-infested mall. The manual was translated from French, and some of the translation choices were pretty funny. Then we played Puerto Rico, about building colonies in the old colonial times, and it was very cool, too, but they shut down the room before we finished.

We were gonna stay for the Geek Auction, b/c a friend of ours was gonna put himself up for sale, but it turned out he hadn't signed up in time. Too bad, b/c we were gonna heckle the hell out of him.

There was a small dealers' room. Acme Comics had a table in there with quarter books. So i had to buy some, but i did good, only buying four. They were four goods ones, too: Crisis on Infinite Earths #5 (1985); Space Adventures #9 (1978) this one reprints the first appearance of Captain Atom, with art by the great Steve Ditko; and two color reprints of old EC titles, Weird Science-Fantasy #2 & #3.

I also got some comics from the artists' room. Jennie Breeden was there selling the print versions of her webcomic, The Devil's Panties (as her business card says, "It's not Satanic porn, honest!") so i got #8 of that, and #0-3 of Gravy Boy, by locals Marty Blevins and Brian Shearer. Then there was a free one from Lulu.com, with samples from several comics they publish. I'll try to get reviews of all these blogged in the next few days.

All in all it was a fun con. It's small and very casual. It was great having friends plan to meet up there. There are always some folks i at least sort of know at these things, but i don't feel comfortable just glomming onto them. Hopefully we'll all get to go to Stellarcon in High Point next month.

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Wow this movie was good. It had some things that i personally enjoy in stories: a dystopian future, an evil repressive government against which our hero fights, and some inventive asskickery.

The world was nearly destroyed by the last worldwide war. After such horrible devestation, the remnants of mankind were willing to accept any regime that would prevent war breaking out again. It was determined that man's emotions were the most fundamental cause of all conflict. So a powerful drug was developed to inhibit all emotions. At the cost of love and joy, fear and hatred have been eliminated. Of course not everyone wants to be part of this coldly perfect society, and so the powers that be must seek out and destroy those who resist.

Christian Bale plays John Preston, a sort of special agent, called a "cleric", who hunts down those guilty of "sense-crime". When the clerics find a nest of rebels, a firefight usually erupts. This is where the asskickery comes in. The clerics are trained in the "gun katas", a type of martial art involving guns. By employing this art, one can, statistically, do the most damage to multiple opponents while avoiding being hit oneself. It may sound goofy, but trust me, it's very cool.

The rebels live on the outskirts of civilization, in bombed out buildings where they hoard restricted items like books, music, paintings, even mundane expressions of feeling like colorful lampshades and non-spartan furniture.

Preston's partner is Errol, played by Sean Bean. (Batman and Boromir on the same team!) Errol has stopped taking his meds regularly. He's also started keeping some of the contraband confiscated from raids.

Honestly, if you've read 1984 or Farhenheit 451, and have ever seen an action movie, you can guess where the plot goes from here. The way the movie gets there is very entertaining and satisfying.

I liked the way the writer(s) set up the evil regime. It didn't seem intended to represent any particular party or ruler, but rather the danger inherent in government itself, especially when coupled with a populace so terrified that they will sacrifice anything for supposed safety. It uses religious ideas where necessary--"faith" in the system is the justification used when others won't fly--but treats all emotion as destructive.

There are little hints about its development sprinkled throughout the film. One such bit of exposition I loved was an explanation of how two twentieth century innovations paved the way for its particular brand of tyranny. Emotion-inhibiting drugs provided the technical means to suppress all feeling, while "hate crime" legislation opened the door to criminalizing emotion.

Immediately after watching this, I rewatched several scenes. This is one that I definitely want to own. I highly recommend it.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Here are some more choice finds from comicspace.com.

The Ghost Robot and the Girl From Space
This is from the anthology Project Romantic from Ad House. It's sweet, in the romantic sense, and the colors are amazing.

Hawaiian Dick
About a private detective in Hawaii in the 50s. Colors ain't bad on this one, either.

Bestiary Alphabet
An alphabet of fantastic creatures.

Thursday, February 01, 2007

Comicspace, the "social networking" site for comics fans and pros, has just added a feature by which members can post images of their own comics and art. There is some very cool stuff on there. Here's the link:


I recommend just browsing and clicking on anything that looks interesting. There's superheroes, but there's a whole lot more, too. Do non-nerdy people realize how much breadth of variety there is in comics? There's plenty.

I'll point out one story I just read tonight, "Untitled", by Winston Rowntree. The whole short story is here. It starts off as a charming slice-of-life vignette, then has a big turn. The twist is jarring, but it makes sense in the end. It's twelve pages.
Go look at the preview pages of these upcoming books from First Second. I really want these. Just check out this one panel from The Professor's Daughter.That's beautiful.